Ox­ford poised to raise mil­lage rate, OKS projects

The Covington News - - THE SECOND FRONT - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

For a fifth straight year, the Ox­ford City Coun­cil is ex­pected to vote Mon­day to raise the city’s mil­lage rate to make up for de­clin­ing prop­erty val­ues.

The coun­cil al­ready ap­proved a $4.53 mil­lion bud­get for fis­cal year 2014, which be­gan July 1, but will vote on the mil­lage rate Mon­day, when the coun­cil is ex­pected to in­crease the rate from 7.6 to 7.85.

The bud­get in­cludes sev­eral spe­cial projects in­clud­ing side­walks, ex­pand­ing the sewer sys­tem, wa­ter line re­place­ment, ci­ty­wide wire­less ac­cess and pos­si­ble land­scap­ing for a new en­trance for Ox­ford Col­lege.

Mil­lage rate in­crease

The mil­lage rate in­crease is known as the roll­back rate — it’s some­times called the “rollup” rate when the tax rate in­creases — and is the rate that keeps prop­erty tax rev­enues the same from year to year by ac­count­ing for prop­erty value in­creases or de­creases.

Ox­ford’s mil­lage rate has slowly in­creased over the years from 5.33 in 2008 to 6.28 in 2010 to 7.6 last year, while the city’s tax di­gest — the value of all land, build­ings and ve­hi­cles — has de­clined from $29.75 mil­lion in 2008 to $15.32 mil­lion in 2013.

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers also is con­sid­er­ing rais­ing its mil­lage rate to the roll­back rate, but is fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic op­po­si­tion.

Ox­ford Mayor Jerry Rose­berry said the city has used the roll­back rate as far back as he can re­mem­ber, though he didn’t know if the city used it when prop­erty val­ues were in­creas­ing. How­ever, the city also passed a $10,000 home­stead ex­emp­tion years ago, which re­duces the tax bills of home­own­ers who have their pri­mary homes in Ox­ford.

A small per­cent­age of Ox­ford’s bud­get is paid for by prop­erty taxes, and the city only ex­pects to col­lect $120,316 in 2013. The ma­jor­ity of the city’s bud­get, $2.47 mil­lion, comes from its sales of elec­tric­ity. The city trans­fers $787,141 from the elec­tric­ity fund to its gen­eral op­er­at­ing fund and its cap­i­tal projects fund. The city of Cov­ing­ton is sim­i­lar in that it sub­si­dizes its bud­get with sales of elec­tric­ity and gas as op­posed to col­lect­ing more in prop­erty tax rev­enues.

New projects

In ad­di­tion to cov­er­ing day-to-day op­er­a­tions, Ox­ford’s 2013-2014 bud­get in­cludes sev­eral plans to im­prove the city’s in­fra­struc­ture.

One of the most ex­pen­sive is a po­ten­tial $600,000 pro­ject — though that fig­ure is very pre­lim­i­nary — me­ter read­ing sys­tem and a ci­ty­wide wire­less In­ter­net sys­tem.

The smart me­ter sys­tem would al­low me­ters to be read re­motely, al­low the city to track us­age more ef­fec­tively and po­ten­tially iden­tify wa­ter leaks and al­low the city util­ity su­per­in­ten­dent to re­motely close and open switches in the util­ity sys­tems, Rose­berry said.

If the city does in­stall smart me­ter-read­ing tech­nol­ogy, Rose­berry said the city has been told there wouldn’t be much ex­tra cost to in­stall a city wire­less In­ter­net sys­tem at the same time.

He said the goal is to have both the me­ter tech­nol­ogy and wire­less In­ter­net cover the en­tire city.

An­other ma­jor pro­ject, which will take place over the next sev­eral years, is to ex­pand city sewer ser­vice to the en­tire city.

Rose­berry said he be­lieves around 75 per­cent of the city is cur­rently cov­ered by pub­lic sewer, but he wants to see the rest of the city con­verted be­cause Ox­ford has many ar­eas that don’t drain well, which can cause septic tanks to mal­func­tion.

“It’s a health is­sue. The land in Ox­ford is an is­sue be­cause it does not per­co­late very well. Af­ter rain­storms, pools of wa­ter are stand­ing every­where. Septic tanks need to be built where there is good per­co­la­tion,” Rose­berry said.

The city has $250,000 set aside in the cap­i­tal bud­get this year for the ex­pan­sion but hopes to lever­age lo­cal money by find­ing a state or fed­eral grant to cover part of the costs.

The city re­cently com­pleted its wa­ter pro­ject on Cook Road, which im­proved wa­ter pres­sure to the area; Rose­berry said the New­ton County Fire Depart­ment had told some com­mer­cial cus­tomers in the area they wouldn’t be al­lowed to ex­pand un­til the wa­ter pres­sure was in­creased. The pro­ject was jointly paid for by Ox­ford and the New­ton County Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Au­thor­ity. Ox­ford’s share was $195,333. The work was com­pleted around a month ago, and the pay­ment will take place in this fis­cal year.

The city also hopes to do long-awaited wa­ter-line re­place­ments along Emory and As­bury streets, which have 80- to 90-year-old pipes.

The $1 mil­lion-plus pro­ject was on the 2011 SPLOST, and the city will loan some money to its SPLOST fund, $400,000, to start the pro­ject now and will add money back into the city’s cof­fers as SPLOST rev­enues are col­lected.

Mul­ti­ple side­walks will also be added. The city is pay­ing $50,000 and us­ing a $200,000 state grant to build a side­walk from the north side of I-20 to Ox­ford City Hall on West Clark Street.

The side­walk will tie into the planned pedes­trian bridge to be built par­al­lel to the ex­ist­ing bridge over I-20.

The goal is to al­low res­i­dents and Ox­ford Col­lege stu­dents eas­ier pedes­trian ac­cess to Cov­ing­ton’s com­mer­cial cor­ri­dor.

An­other side­walk plan will ex­tend the ex­ist­ing side­walk on Emory Street from the for­mer Palmer Stone El­e­men­tary build­ing north to link up to neigh­bor­hoods there. Rose­berry said of­fi­cials want to give those res­i­dents a way to get to the town’s cen­ter.

Fi­nally, an­other side­walk will be in­stalled on Moore Street be­tween Hay­good Av­enue and Cook Road. Rose­berry said the side­walk would in­crease ac­cess to the trail sys­tem, which in­ter­sects with Moore Street and would also in­crease ac­cess to Ox­ford Col­lege’s gym, ten­nis courts and soc­cer field.

The city has a to­tal of $200,000 set aside for side­walk projects.

Ox­ford also is con­sid­er­ing whether to make What­coat Street the main en­trance to Ox­ford Col­lege, in­stead of Pierce Street, which doesn’t pro­vide the en­trance school of­fi­cials want. Pos­si­ble de­signs were pre­sented at city hall Fri­day. The city bud­geted $50,000 for the po­ten­tial pro­ject.

Hamill Street used to be the col­lege’s main en­trance but isn’t used as much since the school shut down ve­hic­u­lar ac­cess to the quad area.

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